"Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."
-- Henry Kissinger, commenting on the US sellout of the Kurds in Iraq in 1975
"Even in the context of covert actions, ours was a cynical enterprise."
-- Pike Report, 1976
The Kurds struggle for independence has been used by foreign countries seeking to undermine local governments in the Iraq region for nearly a hundred years. It was first used by the Turks against the British occupation in 1922. It was used by several countries against the Iraqi government in the First Kurdish-Iraq War (1961-1970).
But the cynical, Machiavellian use of the Kurdish desire for independence was never so fully manipulated as how Kissinger did it in 1974.
This is Part Eight of my huge ongoing series about the History of Iraq. If you haven't already seen them you can find parts Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, and One at the links listed.
When I left off Part Seven the Baathists had just gained complete and unchallenged power of Iraq for the first time. They then ended a brutal 9-year, stalemate of a war with the Kurds by granting them in a truce limited autonomy, with certain conditions that would be implemented in 1974. It was time for the Baathists to move forward with their grand plans for Iraq.
Besides the agreement with the Kurds in 1970, there was also an attempted coup which failed. The Shah of Iran, America's Puppet, was implicated in it. The same year the Baath Party of Syria is taken over by Hafez al-Assad. This causes a permanent split in the two Baath parties.
Given these two events, what happened next kind of makes sense. 1972 was a busy year for the Baath party - and nothing that happened made the Nixon White House happy.
On April 9, 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship.
Article 1 stated that the treaty's objective was to develop broad cooperation between Iraq and the Soviet Union in economic, trade, scientific, technical, and other fields on the basis of "respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in one another's internal affairs." Under the treaty, Iraq obtained extensive technical assistance and military equipment from the Soviet Union.As if that wasn't enough for Cold War America, the Iraqi government met with the remnants of the ICP (Iraqi Communist Party), the parts that weren't liquidated by the Baath coup in 1963, to hammer out differences in their ideas of socialism, democracy, and economic development.
Through 1973 and 1974 negotiations between the Kurds and Iraqi government went nowhere. There was failure to reach agreements on the duties and command structure of the peshmerga border guards. The Kurds refused to accept the Ba'thist determination of the borders of the Kurdish area, which excluded the oil-rich Kirkuk province. The census, promised the the March 1970 Manifesto, had still not been taken four years later.
Meanwhile, in the background, the CIA was maneuvering through their agent, Iran's Shah. Iran had their own agenda, and it involved an ancient border dispute. Kissinger managed to get $16 million in arms to the Kurds.
To put it simply, the border disputes in the region date back to the Peace Treaty of 1639 (between the Persians and the Ottoman Empire), hundreds of years before Iraq even existed. The same disputes still exist today.
The British, before they were kicked out of Iraq, determined that the border was set at the low-water mark on the Iranian side, giving Iraq control of the shipping channel. Iran never accepted that, and this led to periodic armed clashes. One of those minor clashes was in 1974.
"Our movement and people are being destroyed in an unbelievable way, with silence from everyone. We feel, your Excellency, that the United States has a moral and political responsibility towards our people, who have committed themselves to your country's policy."
- Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani's message to Kissinger, 1975
"Promise them anything, give them what they get, and fuck them if they can't take a joke."
- Kissinger to a staff member regarding the Kurds, 1975
The shah and Saddam Hussein met in Algiers in March 1975, and they came to an agreement quickly. Saddam Hussein agreed that the thalweg would be the boundary in the Shatt al-'Arab, and the shah promised to stop his assistance to the Kurds. On the basis of the Algiers Agreement, the foreign ministers of Iraq and Iran met in Baghdad on June 13, 1975, and signed an elaborate treaty embodying the settlement of all disputes relating to frontiers between the two countries. This agreement virtually ended the Kurdish war.The Iranians withdrew their artillery from Iraqi territory. Despite their pleas, the Kurdish leadership discovered the American objective was only to weaken Iraq and prevent an attack on Iran - not to assist in achieving Kurdish autonomy.
While the terrible things the Baath party did in Iraq are well known, it is sometimes forgotten that they were patriots too. They honestly wanted Iraq to prosper...under their rule.
In 1969 the Baathists revised the 1958 Agrarian Reform Law, and in so doing speeded up the process of getting land into the hands of small farmers. They also created large irrigation projects during the late 70's.
In 1974 and 1975 the Iraqi government finished the nationalization of the oil industry and used the funds from the nationalization internally. This contrasts with the Saudis who simply recycle their oil revenue back to American banks.
Until 1991 literacy grew rapidly in Iraq, and the rights of women were protected to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the arab world.
Large investments were made in infrastructure throughout the 70's and the standard of living grew by leaps and bounds as the revenue from oil poured in. By 1979, Iraq ranked second in production of oil among Gulf states. Oil revenues provided 98 percent of foreign exchange and 90 percent of total revenues. What's more, the Baathists went much further to diversify their economy, making it less reliant on foreign manufactured imports than any other nation in the arab world.
Of course none of this prevented the Baathists from being tyrants. When the remnants of the ICP dared to criticize the Iraqi government, the leaders were quickly arrested. By 1979 the Iraqi Communist Party was no more, and all dissident voices had been silenced.
On July 16, 1979, the eve of the anniversary of the revolution of 1968, al-Bakr officially announced his resignation. He was immediately succeeded by Saddam Hussein.
Shortly before this change of power there was another even more eventfull change of power - the Iranian Revolution. This event increasingly dominated political events in the region, and in Iraq. This includes a Shiite riot in Karbala in 1979.
But this is another story.